As per a recent UNICEF report, about 792 Mn people in India do not have access to an improved sanitation facility. Of the 792 Mn, women are the most affected. While in urban areas, it might not be the number of toilet facilities that is the issue, there is a major problem – access to a clean, public toilet for a woman. Public toilet spaces are usually unusable and/or unsafe. Poor design, lack of cleanliness and maintenance, insufficient lighting, and other infrastructural factors also make them unusable for women.
On a trip to Jaipur with his friends, back in 2014, Deep Bajaj faced a similar problem. On the way they made multiple stops to find a clean toilet for the ladies, to no avail. While the group cracked jokes about the fact that men could stand and pee anywhere, it led Deep to research on female urination devices in India. Deep begins, “There were no options available then. We were the first ones to open the category of ‘female urination device’ on Amazon and Snapdeal.”
In order to solve hygiene issues for the millennial generation, Deep, along with his brother Mohit Bajaj and friend Rahul Anand came up with the idea of PeeBuddy – India’s first female urination device.
Women in the country still continue to suffer from lack of clean and friendly toilets when they travel long-distance for professional, social, or recreational reasons. These inconveniences get exacerbated during menstruation, medical emergencies, and even inclement weather conditions.
Using PeeBuddy, women can stand and pee even in dirty toilets, avert the risk of contracting infections, and travel freely and without worries. It is also helpful for those women suffering from arthritis or during pregnancy. The three formed the parent company First Step Digital Pvt. Ltd in 2015, to take on this and other challenges.
Talking about the product, Deep Bajaj, founder of PeeBuddy says: “Women have a lot on their plates these days. We believe our products can assist them in taking care of their intimate hygiene and wellness needs in many situations, which are not discussed openly including lack of friendly toilets, menstrual pains, sanitary disposal etc. Our intent is to assist women travel, live, and operate better.”
The team claims to have sold over 100K bags of PeeBuddy last year. It is now available at Airtel Marathon, Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and the TCS Bengaluru Marathon etc. Gynaecologists are also recommending PeeBuddy to avoid infections contracted while using public toilets.
The team also patented the design and entered the Limca Book of Records as India’s first female urination device, using which women can stand and urinate in common toilets.
In a country where female hygiene is still considered a taboo and is frowned upon, the journey from idea to product wasn’t easy. As Deep says, “A man representing the cause of female intimate hygiene did not go down well with people, initially. It was a little difficult, but it picked up once doctors started suggesting the product and it became available in medical stores. I think if the cause is an important one like ours then these initial hiccups should not deter an entrepreneur. ”
“We started with PeeBuddy and have received a great response from women across all walks of life. Today best of doctors recommend our product range. There is a huge market potential for us in the intimate hygiene and personal care market with over 90 Mn in women in urban areas and over 210 Mn in rural areas,” he adds.
Over time, the team has also introduced an entire range of women’s hygiene and wellness products including the PeeBuddy & Sirona Range. Currently, it includes:
- Herbal feminine pain relief patches (to avoid taking painkillers during period).
- Oxo-biodegradable sanitary disposal bags (for clean & hygienic disposal of sanitary products).
- Intimate wet wipes.
- Applicator tampons.
- Underarm sweat pads.
- BodyGuard Range which includes natural mosquito patches & bands.
These products are available on ecommerce websites like Amazon, Flipkart, Nykaa, Purplle, Snapdeal, etc. They are also available across retail stores in Delhi-NCR like 24×7, LeMarche, Guardian, and NewU.
The startup had been bootstrapped till earlier this year. It recently raised about $443K (INR 2.96 Cr) Pre-Series A funding from Indian Angel Network. Sanjay Mehta, Ishan Singh, and Vikas Kuthiala led this round of investment on behalf of Indian Angel Network.
Talking about the funding, Sanjay Mehta, IAN lead investor said, “Deep has focussed on solving multiple hygiene challenges which has affected the female population with their range of sanitation products and, that too, without environment pollution. With their products, they want to empower every single area and every single woman out there, which according to me is not only a noble initiative but has great potential too.”
Currently, the startup has a 14 member team and three co-founders. It will use the newly raised funding to focus on making investments in strengthening its market position as well as creating an innovative product portfolio mix and a strong team. The team is also planning to start offline retail in Bengaluru and Mumbai in the near future.
Being Juliet – The Monthly Subscription Box
The startup has also recently launched a monthly subscription box service called Being Juliet. It is a monthly period supplies subscription box. Users have to share their period date and other details about their menstrual cycle. Based on the preferences of the user, the box arrives 5 days prior to the period. It comprises sanitary essentials, period pain comforters, and other thoughtful gifts.
Users can choose up to 20 sanitary essentials in the box. The box comes in three variants – Jade, Jane or Juliet, depending on user preferences. The Juliet is available for 3 months (INR 1650), 6 months (INR 3300) and 1 year (INR 6600).
Subscriptions initially started with a weekly/monthly/yearly magazine and newspaper subscriptions. The subscription box model in ecommerce space functions on the same lines. The objective is to engage the customers, look for an improved conversion rate, and build a loyalty programme among others.
In India, the idea is still on its way to garner traction. The subscription model hasn’t been the most preferred option as it involves an upfront payment of fee. In most cases, the boxes contain samples of products to let the user try out a product to influence decision making. There are multiple options available like The Nibble Box, The Gourmet Box in the food category or Origin One for stationary. The major demand is for beauty subscription boxes like FabBag, EnvyBox, etc. BeingJuliet, however, claims to have over 1,000 customers so far.
Female Sanitation Industry Overview
As per a report by Persistence Market Research (PMR), the global feminine hygiene market was valued at $19 Bn in 2015 and is expected to reach $35.2 Bn by 2024 end, expanding at a CAGR of 7.2% during the forecast period.
Feminine hygiene products have also seen a moderate growth in the recent years in India. Rapid urbanisation, growing middle class, rising awareness, growing number of working women, and the increasing availability of sanitary products has driven the feminine hygiene market in India. It reportedly grew at a CAGR of about 16.05% from 2010 to 2015.
Currently, female hygiene products are restricted to sanitary napkins, pantyliners, tampons, and other products (internal cleansers, sprays, disposable razors & blades). With PeeBuddy, a troubling and immediate problem in the female sanitation cycle is being effectively addressed, paving the way for more open conversation and solutions – need of the hour, in this case.